Wednesday, May 31Welcome

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Pop Isaacs – Texas Tech Red Raiders

Constant sound. Pop Pop. Pop Pop. The noise of a ball bouncing on linoleum. Pop Pop. Pop Pop.

“He was only about 2-years-old but would be dribbling these little basketballs in our kitchen all the time,” Rick Isaacs says. “After a while, I’d joke and say, ‘Damn it, Pop Pop, stop making all that noise’. We started calling him Pop Pop. It just stuck.”

Richard Corey Isaacs. That’s his official name no one calls him by these days. “I like the uniqueness of it,” Texas Tech freshman Pop Isaacs says. How does a nickname start? When can it become more than a moniker – something only those close to you use? Becomes your identity – your name. Earvin Johnson would have his name change when Fred Stabley Jr., a sports writer for the Lansing State Journal at the time, called him Magic for the first time following a 36 points, 16 rebounds and 16 assists performance when he was in high school. “I don’t think we should start comparing him to Magic,” Rick Isaacs says with a laugh. “Pop Pop is a catchy name though. It really just started with us just having fun with it. From the sound of him dribbling in our kitchen.”

Before Tech, Isaacs made a name for himself on the court and acquired several nicknames throughout the prep recruiting world. He was called Rickie Isaacs on ESPN, Richard Isaacs by Rivals, was Richard “Pop” Isaacs on 247Sports and Richard Isaacs Jr. on the USA Basketball website. Other names used or floated out there were Little Pop Pop, Rickey and Rick Jr. Those are just a few. As you can tell, this isn’t a new issue.  “It really caught on outside of my teams and friends when I was in eighth grade,” Isaacs says. “I was starting to get pretty good at basketball. That’s when people start talking about you. When you make your name. Everyone caught on to calling me Pop Pop in Las Vegas. I haven’t gone by my real name since. I like Pop. My parents are the only ones who still call me Richard. I can’t imagine being introduced at a game as Richard.”

Eight games into his freshman season, Isaacs is already making a name for himself as a Red Raider – regardless of what you decide to call him. He’s averaging 10.3 points and 3.0 assists per game following scoring a career-high 24 points with five 3-pointers against Nicholls last week. “He settled down and made some really big plays for us,” said Tech head coach Mark Adams after the game. “He hit some huge 3s. Big, big shots. I told him we weren’t going to win unless he held his head up. I was proud of him. He responded well.” The night ended in a 78-71 win with him shooting 5-for-6 on 3-pointers. The 24 points were the ninth most by a Tech freshman and he’s currently shooting 48.6 percent (17-for-35) from beyond the arc this season. His 2.1 3-pointers per game is currently the seventh best in the Big 12.

“It was a surreal night for me in some ways,” Isaacs says. “I’ve dreamed about it all my life. There’s never been a time in my life when I wasn’t watching college basketball and dreaming about being here. To score 20 points in a college game, in that setting. Coming back and winning the game. It was a big crowd and we fed off it. Amazing night.”



CONSTANT PAIN. Pop Pop. Pop Pop. It felt like a groin injury in high school. Something he would force himself to play through. Pop Pop. Pop Pop.

Isaacs arrived in Lubbock to begin his freshman season at the start of June. He was a heralded recruit, one that had been followed closely by recruiting websites from his freshman season. He played for USA Basketball and had multiple offers from the top college programs starting at an early age. The pain had forced him out of the final part of his senior season at Las Vegas Coronado High School, but he was now at Texas Tech and was ready to play. Put the pain in the past. Play through it. Injuries don’t work like that though. They come with you. Tests would reveal hip issues. Femoroacetabular impingement. A labral tear. Chondromalacia. Words most of us don’t know. Pain we don’t want to experience.

“I went through high school as if it was a pulled groin,” he says. “Of course, now I know it wasn’t. It was a shocker when I found out that I’d need surgery and what it would take to get back. I went in with a positive mindset but it wasn’t easy.”

Just two weeks after moving to Lubbock, Isaacs and Texas Tech athletic trainer Mike Neal were heading to the Vail Valley Surgery Center in Colorado. The operative report revealed that the hope that it was just a nagging groin injury was instead issues with his right hip that would need surgery. It was June 16, 2022 that the surgery took place. “It was a pretty complicated procedure that can put people out from 6-10 months,” Neal says.

Surgery went well, but it was just the beginning. Isaacs was given a plan, but not any promises. Back in Lubbock, he would work with Neal and strength and conditioning coach Darby Rich. They had a strategy. Increasing range of motion was a goal in the first month. This would include muscle stimulation and activation. They would start with small movements and increasing strength. This wouldn’t come overnight. Strength isn’t the only thing you have to build in these cases. You also have to build confidence. Reality was setting in. Pop was starting to understand this. “It was really depressing at times,” Isaacs says. “I had never been off the court for that long. Had never had to watch from the sidelines for so long. Basketball is my love. It hurt. I was on crutches watching my teammates do what I love to do. No one wants to start their college experience that way. A week after getting here, I was getting surgery and then out all summer.”

For 21 days after surgery, Isaacs was in a brace and hopping around on crutches. The surgery had gone well. Yes. But now was a time in the process that was just as important. Maybe even more frustrating and difficult. He was told not to lift his right leg. To move it with his hands. When getting in bed. When getting in a car. Everyday activities now required thought. Completely different from his life on the basketball court where he moved so freely and athletically throughout his life. “Darby and Mike put in the time with him,” Rick Isaacs says. “They treated him so well and made him believe that he could do this. It was big time. The school did their part. He is a tough-minded kid. Toughness, physical and mental will always have to be a big part of his game. This taught him to keep fighting.”

Look through some photos from summer workouts and you’ll see Pop in a chair on the sidelines, crutches against the wall, but eyes fixed on the court. He knew that’s where he wanted to be. He was watching his teammates, some older ones with experience like Kevin Obanor, De’Vion Harmon and Fardaws Aimaq going through workouts and others like fellow freshmen Elijah Fisher, Lamar Washington and Robert Jennings acclimating themselves to the college game. It killed him inside – fighting off doubts and insecurities.

“My mentality changed when I was down for a while,” Isaacs says. “You start realizing that you have to find inner strength and trust the people around you. People in this gym cared about me. Outside of here though, I felt like I was forgotten about. I wasn’t playing, so what did I matter. I got over that. When you’re down, on the side, you can feel invisible. That’s tough. It taught me to put my head down and keep working. That’s more important than looking around and hoping that people are feeling sorry for you.”

Official practice started on September 26. That’s only 102 days from that day in Vail, Colorado. The one where world-renowned surgeons took the first step to alleviate pain. The first day of a long summer that forced him to mentally and physically work his work back. Between that day in Vail and this day on the United Supermarkets Arena court, Isaacs had dedicated himself to getting back.

“He got back to full speed in four months,” Neal says. “That’s a credit to him. He worked hard every day. Followed the plan. It was a tedious process and I warned him. He never complained.”



HIS JOURNEY HAS TAKEN HIM from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Utah and now to Lubbock – always with a ball in his hand and dreams revolving around the game. It’s one that’s just beginning. Born and raised in California, Pop and his family moved to Las Vegas around the time he was in sixth grade. With his father coaching the Los Angeles-based club program “H Squad”, Isaacs had grown up around the game. He saw firsthand the impact basketball could have on people. Where it can take you. He was in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t always glamorous. Not everyone makes it to the NBA and becomes a millionaire. He witnessed players working to have their lives turned around by the game, earn college scholarships and pursue a professional career. “He’s known for helping kids out that come from nothing,” Isaacs says of his dad and the world of AAU basketball he grew up in. Pop saw guys like Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan make it from there. He saw others not. The life he grew up in taught him that you have to work hard, earn everything. Pop received lessons from basically birth as he watched from the sidelines, bouncing little souvenir basketballs with college logos on them that his dad would bring back from trips. His love of the game continued growing, going from the kitchen floor to courts in LA, Las Vegas, and eventually around the world.

He would play his freshman season of high school at Coronado HS in Las Vegas, but went to Wasatch Academy in Utah for his sophomore and junior seasons.

Isaacs was also a member of the 2019 USA U16 National Team that won the gold medal at the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Belém, Brazil. A starter in three of six games, he averaged 10.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and a team-high 4.0 assists for the team which went 6-0. He would also participate in four USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team minicamps helping him to develop and also attract attention throughout the nation. In his prep career, he was ranked as high as No. 38 nationally and secured a 4-star from ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. He identifies Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Arkansas and UNLV as the programs he narrowed his recruiting down to before ultimately signing with Tech on November 17, 2021.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself and belief that if I work hard, I can do anything,” Isaacs says. “I felt special because I had people around me who believed in me and helped me develop. I took basketball seriously from an early age. My dad had a vision for me. He told me I was special from the beginning. I’m here now and know that it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication to make all my goals come true. I’m ready for this.”



POP’S MIND WAS RACING. With the arena lights off, over 15,000 fans in the stands, and the videoboard blasting the team’s hype intro, Isaacs and four of his teammates sat on the sidelines waiting to be introduced. It was 144 days since surgery in Vail. The season opener. November 7, 2022. Northwestern State on the other side of the court. Rick Gilbert, the public address announcer, belted out, “And now, let’s meet the starting lineup for your Texas Tech Red Raiders… A freshman, from Las Vegas, Nevada, Number 2, Pop Isaacs.”

Before the season started, Pop had described himself as a very good passer, shooter and being creative with the ball in a video series called, Define Yourself. It was his self-assessment. His narrative going into his first college season. Going into a year after a summer on the sidelines. A summer that started with hip surgery. That video was posted on September 28 but had been recorded a couple weeks before. He spoke confidently to the camera, but internally was hoping that when he returned that he would still be the same player he had been before. “I was ready to get back out there and prove to myself that I could still be the player I was before,” Isaacs says. “It wasn’t easy for sure.”

On the court, Isaacs worked his way back into playing shape and continued building his confidence. He would start in the two secret scrimmages that the Red Raiders had and played over 25 minutes in each. It was a step. But now, with the lights back on after introductions, Isaacs was ready to begin his freshman season. He would score six points after hitting 2 of 3 from beyond the arc in the debut win and three days later once again scored six points in a win over Texas Southern. A week after the opener, 151 days since surgery, Isaacs would score in double figures for the first time in his career. He had 10 points, once again hitting two 3-pointers to help lead Tech to a win over Louisiana Tech to move to 3-0 on the season.  

In Maui, Isaacs would average 8.7 points and 3.0 assists per game. He started the trip with 13 points against No. 10 Creighton where he hit a career-high four 3-pointers. He played over 34 minutes in that game. The first loss of the season for Tech. He followed with five points in the blowout win over Louisville and then scored eight points in the loss to Ohio State. It was a learning experience, but also helped with confidence in his body. Three games in three days is tough on anyone.

“It’s pretty incredible he’s able to perform like he is right now,” Neal says.

“He’s been getting better every game,” Harmon says. “Freshmen seasons are hard. For me, it was at Oklahoma. He’s got it though. There’s a mentality I see in him where he just keeps going. You need that as a freshman and really at any point in your career. He’s come in understanding that.”

Back in Lubbock, Isaacs and the Red Raiders have won back-to-back games with wins over Georgetown and Nicholls. Pop has scored in double figures in both games, going for 10 with two 3-pointers against the Hoyas and then scoring his career-high 24 points last Wednesday against Nicholls. Against Georgetown, Isaacs hit the shot that stopped run and sparked the Red Raiders. He had four assists in that game to go along with his 10 points. Against Nicholls, he was 5-for-6 on 3-pointers and also had three assists. It was the most points by a freshman since Jahmi’us Ramsey went over it a couple times in the 2019-20 season and just seven behind the Texas Tech freshman record of 31 points from Jason Sasser and Lance Hughes.

“He’s really showed a lot of improvement and ability this season,” Adams says. “He’s a guy who can really shoot the ball and is starting to make better decisions with the basketball. I’m really proud of the way he fought his way back to play. That shows toughness and a love for the game. You can’t teach that. He has it and I really believe that he’s about to have a great season for us.”

It’ll be exactly 200 days between the surgery in Vail and the start of Big 12 action for Isaacs. The Red Raiders will travel to Fort Worth – taking on TCU on Saturday, January 2 to begin the 18-round conference gauntlet. He knows that it’ll be tough. He knows it’s a learning experience for freshmen. That his story is just beginning to be written. That he’ll constantly need to be striving for more.

“My mindset right now is to keep improving as a team and individually leading into Big 12 play,” Isaacs says. “The game is a savior to me. I’m so in love with the game that all of this is fun. I love the challenges that come with it too.”

CONSTANT. Pop Pop. Pop Pop.



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